Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Under the Hood: My Sister's Big Day

This past Saturday, my sister Martha (pictured above as she advances toward the stage to received her hood) became the very first person in our extended family to obtain a Ph.D (Doctor of Philosophy). I am immensely proud of her. In her mid-30's, she moved back to the United States after living in Geneva, Switzerland for more than a decade and went back to school. Though she had had a successful career in the fragrance industry, she decided to follow her dream and her passion - to finish her bachelor's degree, then obtain a Master's degree in French, then - ultimately - to obtain her Ph.D.

During the thirteen or so years that it took to achieve her dream, she saw many ups and downs. She divorced. She moved to North Carolina to study at the University of North Carolina, where she had been accepted as a doctoral candidate. She met Koen Van der Drift and they subsequently married. 

Photo by Rachel Broom

Meanwhile, Martha persevered for several years to write, revise and ultimately "defend" her dissertation, which focused on the work of Nobel laureate Jean-Marie Gustave Le Clezio. During the course of her work, she was privileged to meet, interview and work with Le Clezio himself - a high honor for an American doctoral candidate.

And! Through this period, she was a constant and generous source of support to me when I came out of the closet in the fall of 2010. Thank you, Martha, and congratulations from your big brother.


Koen and his family on their way to the ceremony (photo by Mark Koepke)

As we sat waiting for the ceremony to start, I started reading through the list of Ph.D. candidates and the titles of all the dissertations (see above photo). All of these titles had two things in common. First, most of them were completely incomprehensible to me. Second, each one represented the passion of the author. As I looked out on all those candidates, I saw passion - a passion for a subject that had inspired them to go through years of schooling in order to create something that wasn't there before: an original work of academic scholarship. It was inspiring sight to see.

Martha indicated above and below with Carolina blue arrows.

It was also a cool experience for me to be there with my daughter, Rachel. She will be beginning her journey of higher education this coming fall. It was thrilling for me that she was there to witness this - not only because of Martha's example, but also by the example of all the many, many other women who were being hooded that day and by the passion exemplified by all of the candidates. 

And Martha serves as a example - of perservence, of passion and of pursuing one's dreams - not only for Rachel, but also for my son, Adam, who is pursuing a degree at the University of Utah, my daughter Hannah, who has commenced taking on-line classes to complete her associate degree before moving on to finish her degree at a university in British Columbia (where I earned my law degree), and for my other children who are still at home.

My beautiful daughter Rachel and me before the ceremony.

Now some words about a hooding ceremony. I had never been to one before Saturday, and I didn't really know what it is about. So for my own benefit as well as that of others, I am shamelessly copying the follow from Duke University's website:
“The Hooding Ceremony is a special recognition ceremony for doctoral degree candidates during which a faculty advisor and the Dean of the Graduate School place the doctoral hood over the head of the graduate, signifying his or her success in completing the graduate program. The ceremony is similar to a graduation in that faculty and students are dressed in academic attire … 
“Today's academic dress has its origins in the clerical dress that medieval scholars used for warmth in unheated buildings. The tradition of special academic dress seems to have entered this country through King's College (now Columbia) in colonial New York. The custom grew so rapidly that in 1894, an American Intercollegiate Commission standardized the style and color of robes and hoods. The commission decided all robes would be black, which is not the standard for schools today. Bachelor's robes have open, pointed sleeves; master's gowns have sleeves that close at the wrist; and the doctoral gown has bell-shaped sleeves, velvet trim down the front, and three velvet strips across the sleeves. 
“The hood that forms part of today's academic dress was originally a head covering for bad weather. Later it was dropped to the shoulders in the form of a small cape. Eventually, the hood became a separate piece of apparel bearing even more symbolism than the gown. The hood's facing is colored velvet trimming denoting the wearer's discipline (e.g., Arts and Letters, white; Engineering, orange; Law, purple). The width of the velvet trimming designates the level of the degree. The lining of the hood identifies the institution that granted the degree, dark blue with a white chevron for Duke. 
“The cap or square has come to be symbolic of academia. It has evolved from a tufted, square cap called a pileus quadralus worn by medieval laity to a rigid, square academic cap, commonly called a "mortarboard." The velvet tam is commonly worn by doctorate-holders. A tassel is attached to the center of the cap. Tradition dictates that doctoral and master's graduates flick the tassel on the cap from left to right when the degree is conferred.”
Martha is at the top of the stairs. Her dissertation advisor is in the red gown, preparing to place Martha's hood over her shoulders. - Photo by Rachel Broom

The look on Martha's face says it all just after she had been hooded. - Photo by Rachel Broom



  1. How can no one post!? I am in awe of those who have the discipline and fortitude to earn a doctorate. Although I am proud of the BA I earned, it is but a small matter when compared to the mental rigors one goes through to earn a doctorate (at least in my imaginings).

  2. I agree, Andy. Plus there's the fact that my sister was a mature student. I know what it's like to go back to school in one's 40's. It's definitely not the same as when one is in their early 20's. ;)